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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/16/17

October 16, 2017 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I work with a fair number of dysfunctional organizations and hear regularly from readers that they can see pieces of their own organizations in my writings. I hope not too many of you see yourselves or your employers in this week’s installment, which deals with the subject of accountability.

Generally defined as responsibility, in some organizations, it has become little more than a corporate buzzword. Some groups like to throw accountability around without much mention of its companion, governance. Especially when you’re dealing with projects that are a combination of clinical/technical or operational/technical elements, governance is key.

I actually like what Wikipedia has to say about it, that “accountability is the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain, and be answerable for resulting consequences.”

The line about being within the scope of the role is particularly key, as I see many examples where organizations expect employees to be accountable for things beyond their control. Asking a manager to be accountable for the output of their team is fairly common, as long as it’s clearly part of the job responsibilities and the manager is given the tools needed for the team to be successful. All too often I see organizations asking leaders to be responsible for work product that is outside the expertise of their teams or to try to produce results with wishful thinking as their principal tool.

When my clients start throwing around accusations of lack of accountability or engaging in finger-pointing, I like to introduce them to tools that their leadership teams can use to better understand how accountability and responsibility really work. My favorite is the RACI matrix, although I’ve worked with different variations such as RACIQ and RASCI.

For those of you who may not have worked with a RACI matrix, it’s basically a chart of who does what in a business process. It helps clarify roles and responsibilities and can prevent the kind of “not me” conversations we see when things are not progressing according to plan. RACI illustrates that as much as we like to think about the proverbial buck-stopping with a singular individual, department, or team, the one-man-show rarely works in modern business.

RACI breaks down overall responsibility/accountability into the following subgroups:

  • Responsible. The people or teams who actually perform the work.
  • Accountable. The individual who answers for the completion of the work, which may be delegated to others or to a team. They have to approve the work done by the responsible group. To be successful, accountability needs to be owned by a single person, although I see entirely too many examples of failed attempts at shared accountability.
  • Consulted. The people who are subject matter experts or otherwise have an opinion about the work being done. Conventionally this can include legal, compliance, or other professionals who don’t have to actually do the work but whose policies may dictate how it’s done.
  • Informed. The people who need to understand the progress of the project or process. Often this may be notification that a project is complete.

We’ve all been part of projects where we find out too late that there was someone who should have been in the Consulted group, but we didn’t bring them into the process until things were too late. This results in rework, frustration, and low morale when projects have to be redone or revised.

Unless the use of a tool like RACI is baked into a company’s culture, teams may not spend enough time during planning phases to identify what inputs are needed or what communication needs to occur. The idea here is that time should be spent in deliberate thought around making sure project stakeholders are identified. When you first start doing it, it seems time-consuming and artificial to classify tasks and deliverables but after you’ve done it a few times it starts to feel natural and flows more quickly. It’s a way to prevent surprises that becomes worth the effort.

It’s also a way to help counter the siloed work that sometimes happens in larger organizations. When you have a process that forces you to actively think about who should be informed, it helps the clinical people remember to talk to the technical and operational people and so forth. It reduces the chance of a project leader being asked, “Why didn’t I know about this?” or, “How long has this been going on?” The key, however, is to have the process discipline to make sure that you’re thinking about the various parts of a project and not skipping quickly through the matrix, or just doing enough of the matrix to be able to say that you’ve done it. Leaving blanks in the chart isn’t desirable, but can be done to allow a project to move forward with near-term follow up to resolve the empty field.

One of the keys to RACI is that it can identify the way responsibility and accountability shift throughout the lifecycle of a project. At one stage, a group may simply be informed or consulted, where in a subsequent stage, they may be responsible. Accountability may move from a design manager to a build manager to a marketing manager to a sales manager as a project moves to market. Simply having the matrix as part of organizational processes can bring people together around common definitions. I’ve worked with groups who have varying definitions of accountability, which can lead to confusion and disappointment. Bringing everyone onto the same page is always a strong move towards ensuring project success, and if you’re going to use a responsibility matrix, it’s a must.

I’ve been working recently with a consultant who hails from Australia. I love learning different idioms and phrases he uses to describe situations that are common no matter where you work. In talking about ways to help organizations through their dysfunction, he introduced me to a new one that fits right in with what RACI is trying to accomplish. I think I’m going to steal his description for the next time I have to teach it to a client. Because who doesn’t like a tool that can help keep you from acting like a jellyfish at a disco?

What’s your favorite idiom? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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